The original Alien film’s tagline was, “in space, no one can hear you scream.” Well, DPA Microphones wanted to ensure moviegoers do, in fact, hear the actors in the film’s second prequel, Alien: Covenant. But due to the outer space-themed costuming, ensuring that was often a challenge.
Award-winning Production Sound Mixer Ben Osmo had used DPA’s d:screet Miniature Microphones to great effect during the filming of Mad Max: Fury Road. It was therefore no surprise when he chose the same models to record the audio for Ridley Scott’s 2017 Sci-Fi blockbuster.
“This film made unusual demands on the sound, costume and props departments because the cast not only had to wear radio mic transmitters, but also an in-ear/comms set up, which was part of the storyline,” explains Osmo.
The DPA Microphones Used for Alien: Covenant Sound Design
A sequel to Prometheus and the sixth installment in the Alien film series, Alien:Covenant stars Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride and Demián Bichir.
Location filming took place at Milford Sound in Fiordland National Park, New Zealand and at a disused water reservoir near Sydney. Bodyworn microphones for the film were supplied by DPA Microphones Australian distributor, Amber Technology.
The set’s acoustic condition wasn’t the problem, though. That had more to do with costumes.
In some scenes, the complexity of the spacesuit costumes worn by main cast members required the need to remove space helmets to fit in with the storyline. That meant up to three microphones were often needed to capture sound, each positioned differently.
“We put one d:screet 4061 in the front of the space helmet with the cable inside the foam supports and a small transmitter positioned in a cavity of the helmet,” says Osmo.
“A second 4061 was placed below the locking ring in the space suit, with the transmitter inside the suit, then a d:fine 66 Omnidirectional Headset Microphone was dressed under a cap and shot as a practical talk back prop. The transmitter for that microphone was mounted under the back pack, alongside the Lectrosonics IFB R1a receiver.
The set up allowed the cast to start a scene with helmets off and then put them on while the camera was still rolling, without having to stop the dialogue.
Three body mic alternatives gave post-production the option of using whichever mic was most suitable, he says.
Alien: Covenant Sound Design Challenged by Outdoor Shooting Locations
Nobody traveled to space for this movie, but the scenery almost seemed otherworldly.
“Milford Sound was a breath-taking location, and the acoustics for loud gunshots and explosions were amazing because the sound bounced off the mountains,” explains Osmo.
“However, the elements were often against us and we had many days when it was cold and rainy. Ridley loved the look, so we kept filming and got around the problems caused by the weather by waterproofing as much of the equipment as we could.”
Osmo reports that the d:screet Miniature Microphones worked well in these damp, windy conditions, producing “warm and even” sound for most of the cast.
d:screet Miniature Microphones Didn’t Obstruct the Cast
According to Osmo, the cast of Alien:Covenant were very patient with the sound crew and accepted the need for some microphone tweaking between takes. Interior scenes were filmed on a shooting stage at Sydney’s Fox Studios and some of these boom mics could not be used because the corridors in the space ship were too tight.
“In those situations, we worked with the camera department and placed a d:screet 4060 with a small transmitter on the Steadicam operator or on the camera itself,”says Osmo. “This gave us a prime position when the camera tracked backwards with the cast.”
One unusual aspect of this film was that the crew used sound cues for camera movements, props and SFX. This meant that Osmo had to come up with noises for the aliens – something he had great fun delivering.
“I used some takes of our previous recordings of yells and blood curdling screams and recorded some guide yells from the actor who played the Alien,” he explains. “I also used the d:screet Miniature Microphones that I used for my own comms/slate mic to record my own weird voice making some unusual sounds.
“I imported a few takes into Pro Tools and edited a few versions. Some were slowed and pitched down and mixed into two versions (young Neomorph and Alien). These were then played back on set as a guide for the cast to react to, via speakers or into their comms.”
Thanks to the superior sound quality of the DPA microphones and the fact that they could pick up clean dialogue in trying conditions, very little ADR was needed.
“As in all films, it’s the collaboration of all departments that allows the sound department to achieve a good result,” says Osmo. “That was certainly the case with Alien: Covenant sound design.”